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August 2005

The Perfect Client Type "A"

       Now that we have covered a lot of ground on what is not a perfect client, I thought it would be appropriate to turn our attentions to the qualities which make a perfect client. I made a list of the clients I have enjoyed representing through the years. From that list, I developed another list of qualities that I believe made them such good clients. Here is a bullet list of some of the qualities that I came up with:

  • Loyal: I am surprised that the one quality which seemed to predominate was the concept of loyalty. It is odd to talk about a client being loyal to their attorney. However, my best clients through the years have all exhibited this important trait. Loyalty has translated well on the ground. For instance, my loyal clients do not simply fly off the handle when the first thing goes wrong in the case or the first unexpected event arises. Loyal clients know that your interest is to protect them and immediately focus on problem solving when difficult issues arise. This attribute has not only made my job easier, but had a positive impact on their case and the results we were able to achieve in virtually every instance.
  • Hard Working: My best clients have no fear of jumping into the problem at hand and doing some heavy lifting. They review the documents that are produced by the defendant. They identify the documents that they believe are key. The prepare well for their depositions. They put the time and effort into their discovery responses. They are part of the team and help the attorney achieve great results.
  • Sensible: My best clients have been sensible about what the legal system can achieve for them and the results that might be expected. Unlike the client who demands to obtain their attorneys fees as part of damages in cases where no attorney’s fees are possible, sensible client takes a look at their problem and does a cost benefit analysis. They understand and appreciate that it makes no sense to spend forty thousand dollars on a twenty thousand dollar problem. They appreciate that litigation is the last resort not the first step in problem solving. They do not blame the attorney because it can take over twelve months to see a jury trial in a case. A sensible client takes an objective look at their legal problem and understands which solutions are achievable in any particular period of time.
  • Trustworthy: In thinking about my perfect clients, it became clear that these are all people who I could trust. I knew that they would provide me accurate and truthful information. I know that they would not play games. They take responsibility for their own actions and open up without reservation to me as their attorney. Some clients fail to understand that a lawyer cannot help them unless they understand fully what the problem is. The client who holds a few little items back is the client that typically loses in the end. A trustworthy client is a critical piece of any successful litigation.

I would be very interested in hearing what your thoughts are concerning the perfect client. Although this seems like a simple exercise, I am astounded by how much I now look at prospective clients in a careful manner after having thought hard about these issues. I can almost immediately identify which ones are untrustworthy and unrealistic. Before, I would have agreed to represent them without hesitation. Today, I am more likely to send them on their way.

Billiing target of 5 hours per day

I would encourage all lawyers to develop a list of items which they bill for and items that they don’t bill for. Some of my clients still prefer hourly billing. The difference in my law firm is that only certain items actually get billed. The litmus test for all of them is whether or not the activity is adding value to solving the client’s legal issue. Other administrative items, such as transmittals, filing, shuffling of paper, getting up to speed, scheduling and short telephone calls do not result in charges to the client.

Many firms would choke at such an approach and focus on the lost revenue. The funny thing is, I don’t seem to be losing money. My revenue model is strong. More importantly, my client relationships are even stronger. Instead of handling one legal matter for a client, my clients are retaining me on a variety of different matters. And my virtual paralegals are there for constant support and problem solving.

A New Approach to Preparing Your Client for Deposition

       During my scurrying this week to accommodate both Kyle’s funeral and already scheduled depositions, any numbers of things were patched or otherwise fell through the cracks. Co- counsel with no prior client involvement ended up having to prepare our plaintiff for deposition. The initial preparation the day before proved disastrous as a result of an approach which could probably predominate the practice today. Most lawyers prepare their witnesses in a sort of robotic way, anticipating questions and providing the client tools to respond in a way which we either help the case the most or least hurt their cause. But local counsel wanted to make the plaintiff into something she was not. My approach has always been to accept your plaintiff as they are, deal with the realities of the situation and put your sharp lawyer brain to work in figuring out a way to use it to your advantage. Failing to treat your client as human and work within their own abilities and limitations could have proved to be a fatal error. By letting a client know that you believe in them and helping them with the more human difficulties or being in a deposition builds upon a confidence which will typically shine through under sworn oath. Attempting to make you client “look” right or say things in the right way simply increases the level of terror they are experiencing pre-deposition.
       When you treat your client ilke a human being with real concerns and fears, you will help them find their confidence, their voice and their passion for the cause you are both perusing.

A Public Thank-You

         In the midst of Kyle’s death, I of course had a very tight schedule, including an out-of-state deposition of my client who I was supposed to deliver by car. Because the funeral was the same day as the deposition and, as these things go, it took forever to schedule the deposition and the first instance, I asked my practice assistant to fill in and take the client to the dep. My office assistant filled in for Jenny while she was on her fourteen hour cross state trek. Thank you to my staff for going above and beyond the call of duty in order to allow me to attend my friends funeral. Thank you to my co-counsel for covering the deps through what proved to be one very turbulent night.


        In reflecting on Kyle’s death, I am continually drawn to the feeling that he achieved a certain greatness in death and in the way he conducted the end of his life. The way his family, and especially his wife Barb, created an atmosphere of hopefulness, peace and faith around Kyle that transformed everything.

Good Bye Kyle ... for now

Kyle, so many people were touched by you, your courage and selflessness.  Your ability to always think of others even in the midst of pain and a failing body is unlike anything I have ever witnesses in my 41 years.  Your courage and strength to fight to the end  without hesitation or self-pity right is testament to your faith and sense of hope.  We love you and will watch over your family.  Good bye for now. You will never be sick again.

Everyone is touched by loss

Here is my response email to a fellow trial lawyer who sent me an email about his own recent loss of a friend, another special man who touched many lives:

I just returned from the funeral and found your thoughts and kind words in my in-box. Thank you so much for the email. It is too bad that we so easily forget what is truly important. Kyle found his peace in life only after he was diagnosed with cancer. Cancer in some ways gave him one unique and beautiful, although difficult, year.  I am certain he would say it was by far the best year of his life because it was the one most filled with perspective.

As I move forward in my practice, I can only hope to remember how I feel today. Kyle's ability to take it all in stride is something to strive for in my own practice and life. How is it we delude ourselves that so many things are more important than our own mortality and the coming of death. Only in contemplation of death can we have any hope of living a fruitful life.

All the best to you and yours. Don't let big firm life steal your soul or diminish your spirit.

Some People are just Special

          About an hour after my last post, I got the call that Kyle had died. The family had been told by medical doctors many months ago that there was nothing more that they could do. Kyle, Barb and the family turned to faith and embraced the possibility of miracles as their focus. All their faith and belief that a miracle would occur was not wasted. It gave them the foundation to live their last months of Kyle’s life filled with hope, and not despair. It gave them a peace that made their lives seem in many ways to be less of a struggle, than the lives I saw being lived around me. Kyle handled his mortality with grace and humility and compassion.
          We make many decisions each and every day. I will try to make more of mine through Kyle’s eyes. I will do my part to make sure that Kyle lives on and that his message will not be lost to the passage of time.

To Lead an Enriched Life

         The most obvious thing people say when someone dies is how unimportant it makes the mundane tasks of daily living seem. Perhaps it is also the opposite. Perhaps it is those moments when we are so closely reminded of death that we realize how critically important those little tasks we perform each day really are. There important because they are a reflection of who we are and what we aspire to be. I too struggle with the same thoughts Kyle was struggling with when I first met him. I think about that delicate balance between quality of life and that quantity of things we allow into our lives. What Kyle lost in quantity, he made up for in quality. Kyle reminded me that there is good and bad in everything.